Believe it or not this is an actual question I get asked every once in a while.
Expat nurses often ask me about some strange cultural habits they’ve seen in Saudi Arabia or odd things they don’t understand they saw patients doing. I suppose being married to a Saudi gives me more insight into Saudi culture but don’t get me wrong, I’m no Saudipedia or Saudi culture expert. I do like to correct some common misconceptions however, whenever I can. Especially when people just interpret something completely upside down.
Many of the questions I get asked about Saudis are related to Islam. For example: why do Saudi men constantly fiddle with the prayer beads?
Why do Saudi men chew on sticks? Why do Saudi women splash water all over the bathroom floors? Why do people pray on the floor?
Others are more cultural such as why do some female patients keep their whole head covered with a cloth while the doc examines her “down under”? Why do Saudis throw all the trash on the hospital floors? or why do Saudis cluck their tongues, what does it mean? Why do some women paint their palms of their hands and feet with henna?
There definitely should be some sort of crash course to Saudi culture before the employees start working with Saudi patients to help them understand one another better. At the hospital I worked at, our orientation program did not include any information on these, and most foreign staff sadly remain very ignorant about the culture and customs.
Back to the question about the “spitting” on people which is one of the most common cultural oddities that nurses can face in their work. First of all, I want to point out that although it does look and sound like the person is in fact spitting on the patient, he is by no means *spitting*. What is happening is actually praying. The person is reciting Quran and kind of “blowing” the words onto the patient. If anyone knows how to explain this better, feel free to leave a comment.
Muslims believe that reading the Quran on the sick person has healing abilities. In other words the belief is that the actual words of the Quran when recited have healing properties, hence the blowing of the words toward the patient. Nurses will often witness this behavior with patients.
I’ve known many nurses that have been ‘disgusted’ in their own words by the practice, but they never cared to find out what was going on, just assumed and labeled it as something ‘barbaric and uncivilized’ in their minds which is sadly very common to see here.
Well thankfully some of these confused nurses do want to find out and when they do they are so surprised to hear the truth. While others just like to remain ignorant and poke fun at the Saudis saying, they like to spit on people because they’re so backwards people.
Admittedly, I’ve witnessed some pretty enthusiastic styles of the “prayer blowing”. Saliva has definitely been seen flying around, especially with Bedouin patients. This would of course not be good practice to allow to be done on severely immunocompromised patients. At the end of they day though, this practice is only a sincere attempt to try help cure the patients!
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